robertisenberg

Archive for April, 2010|Monthly archive page

Cafe Keys

In Uncategorized on April 8, 2010 at 12:00 pm

Cafes have it rough.

On the one hand, they’re easy to open and manage. You inport coffee and muffins, you hire a few baristas, and customers manage themselves. Want a big influx of people on a Thursday evening? Invite a singer-songwriter to play guitar in the corner. Pittsburgh is overflowing with them. Everybody’s happy.

On the other hand, cafes are magnets for wayward teenags and homeless people, especially in winter. If you don’t like the customers, too bad — an angry punk-rocker could nurse the same cup of coffee for hours, and there’s nothing you can do about it until somebody actually complains. Cafes are the loiterer’s paradise.

The touchiest issue is the bathroom. For careless drifters, it’s easy to assume that “cafe restroom” means “public restroom,” because there’s no waiter or maitre d’ to stop them. So most cafes in Pittsburgh keep their restrooms locked. Managers place accusing signs by the cash register, reading: “Bathrooms are for customers ONLY!”

Gradually, baristas started attaching their restroom keys to large, unwieldy objects. This is my favorite trend in cafe management: Keys affix to spatulas, blunt silverware, wooden shafts, etc. The steel spoon pictured here belongs to the downtown branch of Crazy Mocha. I admired it a few extra seconds before washing my hands and getting a refill of the house blend.

Steeler Country

In Uncategorized on April 7, 2010 at 12:00 pm

Because Pittsburgh boasts such hilly terrain, our vandals are a daring bunch. They love to climb bridges, hang off buildings, and, in this case, scale sheer concrete walls.

Pittsburgh doesn’t have a lot of gang activity, so the graffiti is pretty tame, even endearing. The most famous local vandal, “Mook,” was as admired for his fearlessness as much as he was despised by officials.

This specimen, a giant black-and-gold “Steelers” logo, is positioned above the Boulevard of the Allies — and in the late afternoon, as drivers speed away from Downtown, the concrete is iridescent with sunlight.

You Cannot Be An Anarchist

In Pittsburgh, Uncategorized on April 6, 2010 at 12:00 pm

I have passed this sign dozens of times, and I finally had a chance to photograph it. The brief manifested, hand-written in Sharpie and pasted to an electric pole, looked fresh at first. After awhile, it wilted and was finally crossed out. The hostile correction, “Not True,” seems like the fate of most manifestoes, anarchist or otherwise.

The Capitol

In Uncategorized on April 5, 2010 at 12:00 pm

In December drizzle,

the Capitol grays into ether,

the dome half-awash,

that crown of pillars

rising into mere rain.

The Fallen Donut Paradigm

In Uncategorized on April 4, 2010 at 12:00 pm

Biking and photography: They’re the perfect marriage. Drivers can’t stop. Pedestrians move slowly. But a bicycle travels at the perfect speed.

On the first warm day of March, I biked from Point Breeze to Squirrel Hill to Greenfield to Panther Hollow to the Hot Metal Bridge to South Side to Mt. Washington to Downtown to the Strip District to Bloomfield to Shadyside to East Liberty, and then back to Point Breeze. With my camera in-tow, the trek afforded me all kinds of quotidian shots — shots that I’d long wanted to take, such as a spontaneously approaching train, the Incline ascending over a street, and several bits of graffiti I’ve long enjoyed but never documented.

Biking long distances in Pittsburgh, I can sample an enormous variety of images, and I can stop nearly whenever I want.

My favorite photographs are the ones that are “discovered” (encountered, rather than posed), and can’t be repeated. A landscape of Mt. Rushmore at sunset is fine and all, but it could be taken anytime.

A scatter of donuts, discovered on the corner of Herron and Liberty Aves., is one such photograph. As I leapt a curb on my Schwinn, I spotted the emptied boxful of donuts — dumped in the street between two parked cars. Where had they come from? Was this evidence of an altercation, or someone’s garbage tossed carelessly away? To the viewer, the pastries become protagonists in a mysterious narrative. We have only questions, which even the photographer can’t answer.

The Graywolf Shortlist

In Uncategorized on April 3, 2010 at 5:46 pm

A few months ago, I sent my manuscript, The Archipelago, to Graywolf Press. Graywolf is among the most respected literary publishers in the United States. They were running a “book-length nonfiction contest,” and I just happened to have an eligible book-length nonfiction manuscript. It only made sense.

The Archipelago is about my trek through the former Yugoslavia. My friend in Ireland, Richard Gibney, is the only person to have read it from beginning to end, and he spoke very highly of it. (I prefer to reference a man with good taste than to simply say “it’s awesome”). I sent the manuscript off to Graywolf and promptly forgot about it.

This afternoon, I received a response: The Archipelago didn’t win the contest. “You should know, though,” the letter read, “that we felt your manuscript was very strong, and that yours was one of the final fifteen manuscripts considered for the prize. We truly appreciated the opportunity to consider your manuscript for the prize as well as regular publication on our list.”

Is fifteen a small number? It depends on whom you ask. But I imagine that hundreds, if not thousands, of writers submitted to this contest, and I look for any reason to celebrate. Such compliments can’t be taken lightly.

Bike Trail

In Uncategorized on April 3, 2010 at 12:00 pm

At the Exxon,

the silver machine

rumbles air into my tires,

and as I pedal away

each rotation

bounces me over

the broken teeth of sidewalks,

until I turn onto a river-trail

and the stuttering calms

on young pavement.

The trail is glaciered

with granular snow,

and each berg

bullies my treads,

sticking the bike in place

as the wheels cough,

and I topple sideways,

anchored by a wet boot.

Winter has dammed this path

with slaughtered tree-trunks,

but as the sun tears through

the budless branches,

I bolt beneath them,

limboing, fast,

into Spring.

Birds, Downtown

In Uncategorized on April 2, 2010 at 11:17 pm

Throughout winter, the trees were scraggly and yards were covered in snow. Pittsburghers searched the streets for color, but found only traffic signals and storefronts.

Each visit Downtown, I found relief in flocks of birds — crowning the rims of rooftops, then diving in unison, swirling through the air. Just when they seemed ready to perch again, they’d whip into ever more elegant patterns. In the dead air, above zombified traffic and ghostly walkers, the birds throbbed with life.